Philippine agents arrest journalist critical of president
By BULLIT MARQUEZ
Wednesday, February 13
MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The award-winning head of a Philippine online news site that has aggressively covered President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration was arrested Wednesday by government agents in a libel case.
Maria Ressa, who was selected by Time magazine as one of its Persons of the Year last year, was arrested over a libel complaint from a businessman which Amnesty International condemned as “brazenly politically motivated.” Duterte’s government said the arrest was a normal step in response to the complaint.
Duterte has openly lambasted journalists who write unfavorable stories about him, including his anti-drug campaign that has left thousands of mostly poor suspects dead.
Rappler Inc., the news site which Ressa heads, said National Bureau of Investigation agents served the warrant late Wednesday afternoon, making it difficult for Ressa to apply for bail, and escorted her from the Rappler office to NBI headquarters.
“We are not intimidated. No amount of legal cases, black propaganda, and lies can silence Filipino journalists who continue to hold the line,” Ressa said in a statement. “These legal acrobatics show how far the government will go to silence journalists, including the pettiness of forcing me to spend the night in jail.”
Ressa and a former Rappler researcher, Reynaldo Santos Jr., were indicted recently, the Department of Justice said.
Rappler said the businessman filed the libel complaint five years after the article appeared in 2012, and the law under which Ressa was charged by the government, the Cybercrime Prevention Act, did not go into effect until months after the article’s publication.
The article included allegations that the businessman was linked to illegal drugs and human trafficking, and that a car registered in his name had been used by the country’s chief justice.
Amnesty International Philippines said Ressa’s arrest was based on a “trumped up libel charge.”
“This is brazenly politically motivated, and consistent with the authorities’ threats and repeated targeting of Ressa and her team,” it said.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the arrest was “merely part of any criminal procedure.” Duterte’s spokesman said the charge against Ressa was based on facts which she should simply answer and had “nothing to do” with press freedom.
Rappler is one of several news agencies deemed critical of Duterte’s policies.
Duterte had already banned a Rappler reporter from his news briefings after the government’s corporate watchdog found that the news site violated a constitutional prohibition on foreign ownership of media when it received money from an international investment firm. Rappler, founded in 2012, rejected the ruling.
Ressa has also posted bail on tax evasion charges which she denies and says were politically motivated.
The International Press Institute, a global network of media personnel, strongly condemned Ressa’s detention.
“The arrest of Maria Ressa is an outrageous attempt by the Philippines government to silence a news organization that has been courageously investigating corruption and human rights violations in the country,” IPI director of advocacy Ravi R. Prasad said in a statement.
“The manner in which Ressa has been pursued by the government by slapping legal cases against her is not only shameful but also a gross and willful violation of press freedom.”
In its selection of Ressa as a Person of the Year, Time magazine cited her and several other journalists as “guardians” in what it said was an effort to emphasize the importance of reporters’ work in an increasingly hostile world.
Ressa, who has worked with CNN, also was the winner of two prestigious journalism awards last year, a Press Freedom award from the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, and the International Center for Journalists’ Knight International Journalism Award.
Opinion: Italy’s Threat to the Global Economy
By Desmond Lachman
Something is going very wrong with the Italian economy, the Eurozone’s third-largest economy and the world’s third-largest sovereign bond market.
After the briefest and weakest of economic recoveries, the Italian economy has again succumbed to an economic recession for the third time in a decade. This risks further undermining Italian support for the euro, particularly considering that Italian living standards today remain below those enjoyed 20 years ago when Italy adopted the euro as its currency.
A further reason for concern is that ahead of this May’s European parliamentary elections, Italy’s populist government is becoming more radical in a manner that is hardly likely to revive flagging investor confidence in that country.
The government is now openly attacking the Bank of Italy’s independence and is engaged in a major diplomatic row with France, which resents the Italian government’s encouragement to France’s Yellow Vest protest movement. At the same time, its weakening public finances are likely to again put the Italian government on a collision course with Europe over Italy’s 2019 budget.
Italy’s economy can ill afford to stall yet again. With a public debt mountain of around 130 percent of GDP, the Italian economy must grow if investors are to be persuaded that Italy’s public finances are on a sustainable path. This is all the more important for the Italian government now that its gross borrowing needs are around a staggering $275 billion a year.
Similarly, Italy’s banks need the economy to grow if they are to work their way out of their still large non-performing loan problem. They also need economic growth if they are to reduce their vulnerability to a doom-loop caused by their excessive Italian government debt holdings.
Sadly, judging by its disappointing track record to date of rolling back its predecessor’s labor market reforms, Italy’s present populist government is highly unlikely to undertake those economic reforms that might jumpstart the moribund Italian economy. On the contrary, in the run-up to the European elections, it is more likely to become even less market friendly than before in an effort to garner electoral support.
Stuck within the euro straitjacket, the Italian government also lacks the macroeconomic tools for stimulating the economy. As part of a single currency, it is the European Central Bank and not the Bank of Italy that manages Italy’s interest rate and exchange rate policy. As such, Italy is precluded from devaluing its currency to restore international competitiveness. At the same time, with a budget deficit that will be swollen by recession, the Italian government cannot resort to fiscal pump priming without destabilizing its bond market and without incurring the ire of its European partners.
Markets have taken note of Italy’s diminished economic prospects by demanding higher interest rates for lending to the Italian government. These higher interest rates risk further slowing down the Italian economy, which will in turn raise further questions about the country’s ability to service its public debt mountain.
All of this has to be of the utmost concern not just for Italy but for the global economy as well. After all, the Italian economy is approximately 10 times the size of that of Greece and it has a government debt in excess of $2.5 trillion. In addition, it has a populist government whose economic policies are at odds with those of its European partners. That will make it all the more difficult for the Italian government to get a bailout package if investor appetite for its debt does indeed evaporate.
It is hoped the Italian government will heed the early warning signs coming out of the market and start seriously reforming the economy. If not, we should brace ourselves for yet another and more vicious round of the European sovereign debt crisis.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Desmond Lachman is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. He was formerly a deputy director in the International Monetary Fund’s Policy Development and Review Department and the chief emerging market economic strategist at Salomon Smith Barney. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
Iran’s supreme leader says any talks with US can only ‘harm’
By AMIR VAHDAT
Wednesday, February 13
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran’s supreme leader said Wednesday that any negotiations with the U.S. would “bring nothing but material and spiritual harm” in remarks before an American-led meeting on the Mideast in Warsaw.
The comments from Ayatollah Ali Khamenei were part of a seven-page statement read word-for-word on Iranian state television and heavily promoted in the run-up to its release. They also come two days after Iran marked the 40th anniversary of its 1979 Islamic Revolution amid heightened tensions between Tehran and Washington.
“About the United States, the resolution of any issues is not imaginable and negotiations with it will bring nothing but material and spiritual harm,” Khamenei said.
The supreme leader went on to describe any negotiations as an “unforgiveable mistake.” He also said negotiations would be like “going on your knees before the enemy and kissing the claws of the wolf.”
That tone is a long way from 2015, when Khamenei approved of talks between Iran and the United States that resulted in the nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers. The deal saw Iran limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
However, that deal came under the administration of former President Barack Obama.
Khamenei said the U.S. must deal with Iran’s influence in the Middle East and “preventing the transference of sophisticated Iranian weapons to resistance forces,” a reference to Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah and other anti-Israel armed groups.
The statement by Khamenei, who has final say on all state matters, suggests more restriction by the current administration on engagement with the West.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, during a Cabinet meeting Wednesday, echoed Khamenei’s remarks, saying: “If the Iranian nation surrenders to the United States, it should surrender until the end.”
He said, however, that “Iran is about negotiation, but we are not ready to accept imposition, bullying, pressure and the trampling of our national rights.”
President Donald Trump, who campaigned on a promise of tearing up the nuclear accord, withdrew the U.S. from the deal last May. Since then, the United Nations says Iran has kept up its side of the bargain, though officials in Tehran have increasingly threatened to resume higher enrichment.
Amid the new tensions, Iran’s already-weakened economy has been further challenged. There have been sporadic protests in the country as well, incidents applauded by Trump amid Washington’s maximalist approach to Tehran.
However, some have suggested Iranian leaders meet with Trump in a summit, much like North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Amir Mousavi, a former Iranian diplomat, has claimed that Trump sent a message to President Hassan Rouhani last week requesting direct talks. Mousavi, speaking with Lebanese television station al-Mayadeen, said Trump is ready to visit Tehran and had sent several messages through intermediaries in Oman.
There has been no acknowledgment of such a request from Washington.
The Warsaw summit, which started Wednesday, was initially pegged to focus entirely on Iran. However, the U.S. subsequently made it about the broader Middle East, to boost participation.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif predicted the Warsaw summit would not be productive for the U.S. “I believe it’s dead on arrival or dead before arrival,” he said.
Report: At least 20 Guard personnel killed in Iran bombing
By AMIR VAHDAT and JON GAMBRELL
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — A suicide bombing targeting a bus carrying personnel of Iran’s elite paramilitary Revolutionary Guard force killed at least 20 people and wounded 20 in the country’s southeast, state media reported.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, which came on the day of a U.S.-led conference in Warsaw that included discussions on what America describes as Iran’s malign influence across the wider Mideast.
The state-run IRNA news agency, citing what it described as an “informed source,” reported the attack on the Guard in Iran’s Sistan and Baluchistan province.
The province, which lies on a major opium trafficking route, has seen occasional clashes between Iranian forces and Baluch separatists, as well as drug traffickers.
The Guard is a major economic and military power in Iran, answerable only to the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
While Iran has been enmeshed in the wars engulfing Syria and neighboring Iraq, it largely has avoided the bloodshed plaguing the region. In 2009, more than 40 people, including six Guard commanders, were killed in a suicide attack by Sunni extremists in Sistan and Baluchistan province.
A coordinated June 7, 2017 Islamic State group assault on Parliament and the shrine of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution. At least 18 people were killed and more than 50 wounded.
And most recently, an attack on a military parade in September in Iran’s oil-rich southwest killed over 20 and wounded over 60.
Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Opinion: ‘They Shall Not Grow Old’ — Restoring the Battlefield, Not the Film
By Robert Graboyes
World War I lives today only in the childhood memories of a few centenarians. The rest of us must remember it vicariously. With his recent documentary, “They Shall Not Grow Old,” director Peter Jackson makes that possible as never before.
For those of us born in the decade after World War II, that later war was terrifying, exhilarating and endlessly fascinating — partly because of the riveting film footage. In contrast, New York Times columnist Russell Baker, born a few years after WWI, wrote in 1981 that, “To children of the 1930s, World War I, though it had ended only 15 or 20 years earlier, already belonged to ancient history. I marveled that my parents had been alive when it was fought. It made them seem very, very old.” Its photos, he wrote, seemed “blurred and lifeless,” its uniforms “almost comically quaint,” its airplanes “antediluvian.”
WWI-era motion picture technology helped distort the perception of a war that killed 16 million human beings. For the first time, distant civilians could see battlefields as moving imagery, but those same images gave the slaughter a comic-opera mien.
Those films are jerky, gray, scratchy and silent. Jackson said combatants were “trapped in a Charlie Chaplin world.” With only 12 or so frames a second (versus today’s 24), soldiers march in an awkward, rapid-fire manner that recalls mid-1980s Super Mario Bros. animation. Slow the film down, and soldiers bounce surreally like Buzz Aldrin on the moon.
Jackson alters the viewing experience via 21st-century technology. Meticulously researched color bathes soldiers, equipment and landscape. (One reviewer found it startling to recall that battlefield skies were blue.) Flashes, scratches and distortions of aging film disappear. Contrast and detail return to under- and overexposed segments.
Mid-century recordings of WWI veterans gently narrate the relentless story arc over constant background noise of gunfire and explosions. (When the artillery falls silent at Armistice, viewers realize how numbed they had become to the din.) This, in turn, is layered over the sounds of men talking and going about their daily routines. Sometimes, the voices sync perfectly with moving lips onscreen. Lip-readers analyzed what the soldiers were saying, and accent-appropriate actors dubbed the long-still voices — just often enough to persuade viewers to forget that these are silent films.
The greatest technical achievement is restoring natural motion. Jackson’s technicians interposed software-manufactured frames between the originals to bring the film up to 24 frames per second. Viewers are free to contemplate the men rather than the medium.
But this technology raises ethical questions. Is this falsifying history and doing disservice to the original filmmakers?
In the 1980s, Ted Turner colorized venerable black-and-white films like “Casablanca.” Critic Roger Ebert voiced the dominant reaction: “Anyone who can accept the idea of the colorization of black and white films has bad taste. The issue involved is so clear, and the artistic sin of colorization is so fundamentally wrong, that colorization provides a pass-fail examination. If you ‘like’ colorized movies, it is doubtful that you know why movies are made, or why you watch them.”
In narration accompanying “They Shall Not Grow Old,” Jackson notes the impropriety of colorizing films where directors deliberately chose black-and-white over color film. (Think of 2018’s “Roma” or 2011’s “The Artist.”) WWI cinematographers, he speculates, would gladly have exchanged black-and-white for color.
Perhaps Charlie Chaplin, too, would have used color film, had it been available. But it would still be abominable to colorize “The Little Tramp” today. Chaplin forged his art with the materials of his time. Michelangelo didn’t have access to acrylic paint, but that’s no excuse for colorizing “David.”
But WWI film footage isn’t primarily art. In observing “David” or “The Little Tramp,” we strive to see the works through the artist’s eyes. While, it’s interesting to view WWI footage through the eyes of the filmmakers, most of us likely aim to see through the eyes of those who, in John McCrae’s (slightly edited) words, “lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, loved and were loved, and now lie in Flanders fields.”
Jackson restored the battlefield, not the battlefield photography. Doing so breathed life into the long-gone soldiers — life their loved ones could never experience in the flickering theaters of a century ago.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Robert Graboyes is a senior research fellow with the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, where he focuses on technological innovation in health care. He is the author of “Fortress and Frontier in American Health Care” and has taught health economics at five universities. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
Review: Cass McCombs evokes the West on ‘Tip of the Sphere’
By PABLO GORONDI
Wednesday, February 13
Cass McCombs, “Tip of the Sphere” (ANTI-)
Cass McCombs follows up 2016’s “Mangy Love,” the most all-around successful and profile-lifting album of his career, with an atmospheric, sweetly meandering record made in 10 days in Brooklyn but with plenty of sonic and thematic references to his native West.
“Tip of the Sphere” tapers down some of the frills of its predecessor, achieving a more uniform overall sound while still finding space for some catchy arrangements and lyrics alternating between mythical, realistic and enigmatic.
A hypnotic, insistent guitar arpeggio on the introductory “I Followed the River South to What,” as well as the vaguely Jackson Browne-like tone of McCombs vocals, not to mention the turbulent and lengthy guitar solo, evoke the California spirit, while “The Great Pixley Train Robbery” is a dynamic tune based on a real 1889 heist.
The deeply romantic “Estrella” has a light touch allowing it to float skyward and “Absentee” contrasts a Harry Nilsson piano melody with a muted but restless saxophone. “Sleeping Volcanos,” with a Suzanne Vega-sounding refrain, and “Sidewalk Bop After Suicide,” despite its alarming title, are among the more straightforward tunes on the rest of the record, which grows weirder on the last tracks.
“American Canyon Sutra” is like Beat poetry, a mostly narrated meditation on a depressing landscape that includes a recycling center that can’t avoid looking like a dump and “where Walmart employees and customers/Are one and the same.” The tender yet disconcerting “Tying Up Loose Ends” involves old family snapshots that trigger a need to identify relatives and find a clearer context for the past.
The 10-minute “Rounder” closes the album with an easy J.J. Cale groove and unfathomable lyrics that seem to mention laundry duties and less mundane things with the same gravity.
“Tip of the Sphere” finds McCombs is enigmatic as ever, but his enthralling talent makes it a treat to snuggle in beneath his songs.